There is science behind why public health experts call for improving alcohol availability regulations to reduce the spread of the Coronavirus. Not all countries of the UK are following scientific advice, however.

Pubs, bars and restaurants in Scotland will be banned from selling alcohol to customers indoors for over two weeks. Pubs in northern England are also facing the possibility of tighter restrictions.

There is a scientific reasoning why banning alcohol sales works to reduce the spread of COVID-19. According to studies cited by Dr Michael Head, a senior research fellow in global health at the University of Southampton, outbreaks of coronavirus often start from crowded indoor settings such as pubs, bars and restaurants.

Prof Linda Bauld, a public health expert at the University of Edinburgh, underscored these findings noting that contact tracing in Aberdeen, where a local lockdown was imposed for three weeks, showed that the outbreak was triggered by a small number of infectious people entering hospitality venues.

The idea with restricting access to pubs or restaurants, or closing them altogether, is that we can break the chain of transmission, reduce the number of super-spreading events, and then that should have a decent impact in terms of lowering new outbreaks and therefore onward transmission,” said Prof Linda Bauld, a public health expert at the University of Edinburgh, as per The Guardian.

Prof Linda Bauld, University of Edinburgh

Why does addressing alcohol availability matter for the spread of the coronavirus?

Alcohol consumption often takes place in crowded social gatherings and adversely affects alcohol user’s cognitive functioning and thus their capacity to correctly analyse risks. With COVID-19 this often means not adhering to health guidelines and ignoring physical distancing measures. A study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health found that among young adults with heavy alcohol use, adherence to public policies like stay-at-home (SAH) orders is suboptimal, declines over time, and is associated with alcohol use events.

It is difficult for people to do all the things they are supposed to do when they are [in those settings], and it is very difficult – despite the best efforts of staff – to really police that effectively,” said Prof Bauld, as per The Guardian.

Prof Linda Bauld, University of Edinburgh

Reducing sales hours in pubs and restaurants as the 10:00 PM closing hour which was implemented is questionable according to experts. There has been no scientific evidence which shows that reducing opening hours helps to reduce COVID-19 spread. This could also be counterproductive as people could go earlier to buy alcohol or gather outside or at homes before or after going to the pub, bar or restaurant.

Researchers at the London School for Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM ) in a study surveyed 3,222 people across the UK about how many people they had met in the last 24 hours. Participants were not all asked the same questions. The study looked at responses in the two weeks before and after restrictions came into place. 

The results are as follows:

6:00 PM rule

  • The majority of people (42.3%) who were asked about their contacts before and after the rule of six had not changed how many people they saw day-to-day since the policy was announced. 
  • Nearly a third (31.6%) saw fewer people, but a quarter (26%) said they were seeing more people.
  • It means the restrictions are unlikely to have a significant impact on reducing people’s social contacts, and therefore the odds of them catching or passing on the coronavirus. 
  • The average number of contacts among the respondents was two, both before and after the rule of six came into effect.   

10:00 PM rule

  • The survey found that for the 10pm curfew, half (50.3%) of people were seeing the same number of people as they were before it was implemented.
  • The rest were split equally between seeing more (24%) and less people (25.6%).

The above results of the study show that the 6:00 PM and 10:00 PM closing time did not have a significant effect on reducing contacts between people.

Instead of reducing opening hours, public health experts advise pubs, bars and restaurants should be closed in COVID-19 high-risk areas.

In my view pubs and restaurants should be shut in high-burden areas and the restaurants owners and staff fully compensated for loss of income,” said Prof Bauld, as per The Guardian.

Prof Linda Bauld, University of Edinburgh

Restricting access to alcohol specifically, beyond restrictions on opening times of establishments help with a range of COVID-19 issues. Considering that alcohol weakens the immune system, thus increasing the risk of infection of COVID-19 and considering alcohol is a risk factor for non-communicable diseases (NCDs) which increase mortality from COVID-19, improving alcohol availability regulations is an effective solution to reduce the COVID-19 burden in the UK. It can also help recovery from COVID-19 by reducing the alcohol burden on healthcare, emergency services, society and the economy. This is why the World Health Organization has advised member states to restrict access to alcohol during the pandemic.

[This article was updated on October 30, 2020 according to new information from the Daily Mail]

Source Website: The Guardian